Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lord of the (Greek) Dance

Jungle Vision isn't ALL business. From time-to-time I'll post compelling (read, funny) videos, podcasts, photos and musings from around the Internet.

Take Stavros Flatley: our first "Jungle Folly." A Greek-Cypriot and his son competed on Britain's Got Talent with this River Dance/Zorba fusion.

Έλληνες to Greek-Americans

What role do Classical Themes play in Greek-American identity?

My undergraduate career at Brown University may be over as of Sunday, May 24 2009. But before I left College Hill I wrote my last paper on how Greek-Americans have used and been expected to use references from classical antiquity as part of their identity. Although not an exhaustive study by any means, the paper below charts the use of classical themes from Greece to Ellis Island, to Parthenon Diners. Greeks who came to the United States formed organizations that employed classical themes and taught about classical antiquity in order to facilitate the Greek-American fusion. Sometimes the invocation of classical identity proved crucial as confrontations with the Ku Klux Klan after World War I suggest. Though less contentious in the United States, classical themes make curious cameos when Greek-Americans come into conflict with other groups over issues such as the Macedonian Imbroglio.

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After decades of use in the U.S., classical themes have wormed their way into popular culture -- Most visibly in the blockbuster romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding but also in subtle television references. Just this year Stephen Colbert admitted accidentally putting a Greek named "Homer" in his secret prison after he mistook the delivery guy from Parthenon Kebab House for an Arab (vigilante abduction is never okay no matter the ethnicity, but that's beside the point right here). Scroll to 3:50 in the embedded video to see for yourself. And, of course, feel free to download and read my full paper below.

PHOTOS: Gift Card from the Parthenon Diner in Saybrook, CT (above), Banner from AHEPA listing website, (Notice the fusion of Greek and American symbols in the banner, particularly the olive branch underneath the cross in the official seal.) Video embedded from Colbert Nation

NOTE: this post was not endorsed or used for advertising by The Parthenon Diner, Colbert Report, or AHEPA.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Awakening of Antiquity

My Fulbright foray to Greece won't be my first extensive exposure to the region's issues. I spent the last year researching and writing my Senior Honors Thesis at Brown University on the role classical history plays in the Macedonia Imbroglio between Greece and FYROM. References to Alexander and Macedon are constantly used by both sides and the Western Media without a thorough discussion on why these references and images hold cultural currency. Using theoretical models from Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm and Anthony Smith I demonstrate how Classical identity was consciously (and enthusiastically) incorporated into the national narratives of both the combatants. Information from Loring Danforth, Victor Roudometoff and Keith Brown is synthesized to recreate the role Classical knowledge (or lackthereof) played at the creation of FYROM as a sovereign state in the early 1990s. Press clippings and analysis from Evangelos Kofos bring the conflict up to speed with events through 2009.

As explained in the preface, I try to critique both sides equally, but as my name suggests I have something of a latent bias that would be foolish to ignore. Nevertheless I place as much information as possible at the feet of my reader for them to make their own judgments and parallels. 

I've done my job right if Greeks think I supported FYROM and Slav Macedonians think I favored Greece. There is a slight issue of language since my Greek is ability is moderate at the moment and I have no experience with Macedonian (even calling that tongue Macedonian is controversial). But I'm only slightly worried that I might get lit up like a Christmas Tree by the attacks from both the Greek and FYROM blogospheres...

PHOTOS: Alexander the Great bust licensed by Creative Commons courtesy of kontojohn. Vergina Star also licensed by Creative Commons courtesy of mahi1964. Hunza, self-acclaimed Pakistani descendants of Alexander, visit FYROM in 2008 with their Turkish Airlines flight in the background and a retinue of Ancient Macedonian warriors to greet them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Positive PR for "Prevailing Faith," Jungle Vision

Brown's front page features the 30 Fulbright Grants the University received this year, many of them graduating seniors like myself.

The 20 host countries (besides Greece) include Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic, Norway, and Syria. Through an alphabetical quirk Ghana and Greece were both plucked in the example and placed next to each other. My good friend Lauren Davis, who I commiserated with during the lengthy application process, is heading back there after finding her inspiration studying abroad last spring.

Brown quoted my Fulbright proposal:
Another senior Fulbright recipient, George Mesthos ’09, will investigate the Greek Orthodox Church’s response to the country’s recent flow of immigrants. “My study [will] transform what are essentially two monologues,” Mesthos explains, “into a dialogue about how Greece should handle immigration and what role the church plays in the changing state.” At the same time, he will pursue a master’s degree in political science at the University of Athens.

Gotta like the word "investigate." I have no intention of losing my journalistic roots during my extended stay in the Hellenic Republic. 

IN OTHER NEWS...I've been missing-in-action since I launched the blog due to the fact that contrary to popular opinion I do need to graduate from college before getting the above-mentioned Fulbright... Jungle Vision hasn't exactly become viral (yet), but launching the site and hitting up listservs did bring in some interesting responses including The Hellenic Voice and some distant relatives in California. Sweet... A ton has happened during my hiatus. Namely, right-wing groups attacked immigrants squatting in an old courthouse on May 9, drawing (quiet) international press attention. Right-wing groups in Greece tend to be ultra-Orthodox. Two avenues I'm interested in; official connections to the charge and are these groups a reason for the Church to keep a low immigrant-philanthropic profile?... So far not many of Jungle Vision's followers come from Twitter. But there is an interesting conversation that's starting to emerge between Greeks who are convinced Greece will be overwhelmed with foreigners and those who are appalled at their treatment. I might also have gotten mis-tweet-quoted by George Economides....I haven't actually been accepted to University of Athens' Master's in South East European Studies program. Could hear next week or in early June... Last live newscast for WBRU was on Friday. Last Pulse story airs at 10:00a EST Sunday. Wrote this extensive blog post with two podcasts. ... Plan right now is to spread out the new posts. Upcoming ones include, my Thesis on Macedonia, Top BRU Podcasts and News analysis of the May 9 Right Wing Squatter Storming. My hope is to break down news stories on immigration and the Church of Greece as they're written everyday...Special thanks to Dean Linda Dunleavy, her assistant Jeanette Spiritto and my (patient) proposal reader Rebecca Summerhays for all their help through the Fulbright process.

Photo courtesy of iStock via (notice the coincidentally convenient placement of the Greek flag.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Prevailing Faith": The Purpose of My Fulbright Project

There is an unassuming mosaic in the middle of the sea town of Nauplion, the first capital of the modern Greek state. Jacob wrestles with an angel in a scene from the Old Testament. The two holy figures grab at each other's robes and step on each other's toes, wings and limbs a-flailing, the ground rent asunder beneath them. Which side will prevail in the grappling between the natures of man and angel?

The Church of Greece faces a similar struggle between its holy urges right now. Since Greece's liberation in the 1830s the Church has enjoyed the privileges of a quasi-state department and a set of religious 'anti-trust exemptions,' if you will. The 1975 constitution that restored the Hellenic Republic acknowledged Orthodoxy as the "Prevailing Faith." But when the Iron Curtain fell and the United States' pursued the Global War on Terror a flood of immigrants (one million or more depending on the estimate) flooded Greece, The European Union's most Eastern and perhaps most homogenous state. The Holy Synod's policy makers and local parish priests are confronted with a choice between the Church's apostolic philanthropy and preserving its privileged place within Greek society.

So far the Church's response has been mixed. Under the leadership of the late Archbishop Christodoulos the Church set out on a national campaign to keep religious affiliation (97% of Greeks say they are Orthodox...on paper) on the national identity card even though it had been cited as at least potentially discriminatory. The Church blocked the building of a mosque in Athens, before reversing course and providing land for a Muslim holy site (the mosque still has not been built for a variety of reasons). But at the same time the Church provides Greek lessons for immigrants who need to learn the language to naturalize (another issue), runs help centers for abused or trafficked immigrants and uses its own NGOs to criticize the Greek government's policies (such as rejecting 90% of asylum seekers). Clergymen often appear as sources in press reports when reporters go to rural areas or the islands to report on migrant issues. Scholars and other NGOs point out the controversial negatives while members of the Church cite their "quiet" endeavors.

This gap in understanding is where my Fulbright project --"Prevailing Faith" -- and this blog -- Jungle Vision -- come in. Through research, observations and interviews I plan to reconcile these two views, not prove one or the other. What you're looking at right now will be the home of my reports, podcasts and videos for the project, a portal for commentary on other contemporary Greek affairs (read: youth issues), not to mention a place to keep in touch on affairs back in the states from June 2009 to June 2010. (I've included a pdf of my streamlined Fulbright proposal for your consumption below)

My training is as a journalist (and a classicist, technically, but we won't get into that) so this endeavor will likewise be an exercise in new media journalism -- something my peers and I are all adapting to.

In addition to Jungle Vision you can follow my progress on Twitter. Read, comment, watch, listen, suggest and enjoy yourself here. Most of all, keep in touch and I'll give you a vision through the jungle that is Greece and its Church in the 21st century.